“I couldn’t even tell you how many people I’ve seen die – it’s unbearable to even think about it. At one point it was one person dying each shift, which is a lot of heartbreak.”
Olivia Kane is an intensive care nurse who has seen dozens of COVID-19 deaths, and she urged people to have the vaccine because of the ‘terrifying’ scenes she has seen.
The 24-year-old has only worked on ICU at Walsall Manor Hospital for 12 months, but has witnessed many patients dying – and worryingly, most of those she is now seeing are younger and unvaccinated.
“It’s absolutely terrifying because you easily relate it to your own family,” said Olivia. “A lot of these patients thought they’d never get the virus, so it’s just scary how quickly things can change, and how devastating it can be for everybody.
“We see the aftermath with the families, especially when the patients are ventilated and they can’t talk. You see how the families react to their loved ones, with all the infusions, and how poorly they have gone – even over a couple of days, it’s terrifying.
“These are often unvaccinated patients. It’s the nastiness of the virus – people under-estimate how bad it can be.”
Olivia reports a steady stream of patients admitted to the ICU are suffering from COVID-19.
Today, five patients in the 13-bedded unit have the virus, one of whom is so sick they are not expected to see the end of the day.
“I can’t remember not looking after a COVID patient,” she added. “At the minute, it’s steady. We’re still getting an influx of COVID-19 patients and it’s very clear the ones suffering more are unvaccinated.
“Our treatment has improved, as has the way we’re managed the COVID care, but they’re still very poorly.
“It has been one of the worst working years of my career – and I think it will always be that.
“You do see a difference with the vaccinated patients – they have shorter hospital stays, and they don’t require such invasive treatment all the time.
“It’s just a shame they’re still having to suffer and so are their families, and it’s a big impact on us, mentally and physically.
“The patients are also here for a long time as well. It would be nice for everyone to recover but unfortunately, people don’t – that’s the seriousness of it.”
Olivia admits the COVID patients they’re now seeing are younger and would like to know why they haven’t had the vaccine, but knows that even if she could ask them, they are too poorly to tell her.
“I’ve noticed we are getting younger patients with COVID now – people in their 30s and 40s who should be well. There’s no reason for them to be this poorly but they are,” she said.
“I do wonder if they’d have had the vaccination, how they would have coped with this illness. But when someone is critically ill, it’s not the right time to talk about the vaccination.
“It would be nice to know why, if they do improve and get better – no judgement, it’s purely to see what their opinions are.”
Olivia is fully vaccinated and has received her booster and hasn’t received any reaction.
“It makes me feel a lot safer, especially working in this environment, and from what I’ve seen, it’s a good thing to have,” she said.
“All the colleagues I know are happy to have it. I wouldn’t hesitate to have it again – I would have it in a heartbeat because I have seen the effects of having COVID-19 and I would urge others to do the same.”
Olivia also admitted the toll of working constantly in ICU looking after extremely sick and dying patients, plus working long shifts in personal protective equipment (PPE) takes its toll.
“I can speak for myself and my colleagues to say it’s mentally draining having to do this every day still, and physically draining with the PPE,” she said.
“Life might seem like it’s back to normal for other people but for us it never is – it’s constantly having to try to make these people better.
“It’s sad and it’s still very scary, especially with the new variant. It just feels like it’s never ending.”
She admits she has found it challenging herself at times.
“Mentally I’ve struggled – for my age, I’ve probably seen more people die than I should in my whole career,” said Olivia.
“At one point it was one person dying each shift, which is a lot of heartbreak to take every time you’re at work, especially when you consider our job is to try to make people better, it’s really difficult.”
But Olivia says the staff have supported each other and have had plenty of help from the Trust.
“The team is so supportive that you get through it,” she said. “They’re constantly thinking of new strategies to help you cope, and we have monthly meetings where they’re talking about our health and wellbeing and offering support, and they’re trying to implement new things as the COVID situation changes.”